Projects, Processes, and People

Photo by Marcelo Braga, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Today, I experienced an interesting discussion and later this evening I read three related articles. That all came together more or less incidentally.

At work we are going through a restructure phase and one team had a coffee to discuss what it meant for them. In general, the people were concerned about the lack of detail, what the change meant for them personally and how “it” was going to work.

I don’t actually need to go into the details who the team was and what they currently do, it is immaterial. Not one team member was or is a change agent, not one was able to translate the strategic vision into something tangible.

Later I came across these 2 articles:

First, a blog post from 99U published in April 2014:

he Difference Between Projects and Processes:

Projects create change. Processes resist change.

Wow, so obvious and still – I forgot about it at the discussion. The people are used to work in a particular way, they are used that someone is responsible for this, then another person does that, and finally a third one completes the task. Quite obviously the new structure is meant to break that. Its objective is to create, to force change. That’s not going to happen if processes stay the same. Hence implementing the new structure must be treated as a project.

And that’s where the second article comes in. This one published by the Smashing Magazine in July 2013:

People > Projects > Processes:

Having a process is good, but be careful that it does not overshadow the project itself or the people involved.

Processes are good to get the same quality every time. The ISO 9000 family is designed to do just that.

Projects are meant to create new processes or make existing ones better. And often they rely on processes themselves (PMI or Prince2 anyone?).

And what is the most important asset any organisation has? Its people. What is in the top 5 most important things organisations try to improve on? Employee Engagement. Why do projects fail? In 72% of all cases it is a communication breakdown.

Summary

Coming back to our discussion. Yes, I failed to appreciate the disruptive value of the restructure. But also, uncertainty about mapping the vision to the structure on middle management level means learning by making mistakes in creating new processes for the same business objectives must be acceptable. Disruption to existing support processes and delays in delivering functional projects may also occur. All under the vision of creating a better service in the near future.

You gotta break some eggs to make an omelette.

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The Happy Employee

Happiness in 3 facesEarlier this week a friend posted an article about “Is it your fault when you are unhappy?” The original blog post is actually from James Adonis, one of Australia’s best-known people-management thinkers.

James presented two opposite opinions:

  • “Your employer is not responsible for your happiness. You are.”
  • “It’s not difficult at all for leaders to create happy employees. The only reason it doesn’t happen is if you work for a tool.”

“So, who’s right? Are employees ultimately responsible for the joy they feel at work? Or do their bosses have a moral obligation to make it a priority?

That leaders have a financial obligation is already clear. There are many credible studies demonstrating the benefits associated with happy employees or, more significantly, engaged employees. These reports, for example, outline some of the empirical findings that indicate the positive outcomes include better customer service, higher productivity, enhanced sales and fewer safety accidents.”

James favours the first opinion and continues outlining 4 traits that distinguishes happy employees:

  • A desire to work for the simple joy that arises from doing a good job.
  • A positive attitude comprising enthusiasm and cheerfulness.
  • A conscientious work ethic of hard work and resourcefulness.
  • A proactive approach that seeks opportunities to make a contribution.

He further discusses Unhappiness as a result of “waiting” and concludes:

“So, cheers to the leaders who make it a personal mission to create a happy and engaging workplace. But an even more emphatic cheer is in order for the employees who do it themselves.”

My Opinion

I agree happiness is not something leaders can give to people. That is inherently impossible. It is up to you personally what and how you live your life. That’s why I start every day with a smile and enjoy a beautiful Monday.

Although that doesn’t mean leaders can sit back and relax, knowing it’s not their fault if employees are being unhappy. They do have a responsibility to provide 5 things:

  • make sure employees do meaningful work
  • communicate open, honestly and share information
  • ensure employees have autonomy within their responsibilities
  • foster innovation, teamwork, and be the chief road block remover
  • provide fair compensation and possibilities to grow

If they don’t, people who take responsibility for their happiness will leave and those who wait for happiness to come to them will stay.

To your question, Greg, I don’t think leaders have a moral obligation to create happiness. They work in the same organisation as their team. So, it comes down in my opinion to

  1. What does the organisation stand for, what’s the purpose? Can I identify with that as an individual.
  2. What are the values of the organisation and are they demonstarted by the senior managers? Do those match to a large degree with my personal values.
  3. Do I feel I can make a difference and add value?

If those three questions line up, I can see happiness and meaningful work coming up 🙂

Inbox Zero?

InBox Zero

Recently Inbox Zero popped up again. Not a surprise considering summer holidays in the Northern Hemisphere are coming to an end.

Automated responses

The BBC ran an article 2 days ago where German car maker Daimler offered employees to delete holiday emails in a very friendly way:

I am on vacation. I cannot read your email. Your email is being deleted. Please contact Hans or Monika if it’s really important, or resend the email after I’m back in the office. Danke Schoen.

Comments are consequently positive: “This is good email management.” It doesn’t address the standard flood of emails although it makes the re-start after being away a lot easier and not daunting.

Another approach is trialled by the Christchurch City Council. The management team implemented a suggested response when the recipient is “just copied in”. The response reads similar to this:

“Thank you for your email. As I’m just copied in, your email has been parked in my “for info” folder. I’ll endeavour to check those emails once a week. If your correspondence is urgent please re-send it to me directly with your expectations of my action.”

The objective is to reduce cluttering email inboxes with information that doesn’t require an urgent action by the recipient or in short to reduce clutter.

Most email applications allow for such automated actions via rules and filters, and categories, folders and labels.

Decisions

While the technology allows for such things, it’s up to us humans to actually do it. That means,

  1. consider your response types (do, reply, defer, delegate, archive, delete or see the original post from Merlin Mann),
  2. create good auto- and template responses,
  3. and then actually do it.

The reality looks, unfortunately, different. Some follow their good intentions and put such actions into place while others don’t. There are some good and not so good reasons:

  • a full inbox means I’m busy
  • I actually like having that many emails
  • the Inbox search is great – why hiding important stuff in many folders
  • those rules are too complicated
  • I fear I miss important stuff
  • people expect I’m informed what’s going on
  • the tools don’t match how I work

Some options

Hey, it’s your Inbox, isn’t it?

or

Could we check how you work and see if there is a process that can be adjusted, another tool be found, or expectations managed more efficiently? There are systems like Sanebox, or MailBox, Mailstrom, and Tapermail that all take a different approach. And there is this blogpost for Outlook fans. One might work for you well 🙂

 

How a junior staff member can review the work of his senior

Jedi Master and ApprenticeA story

There is a small team of 4 developers. These guys are very different from each other.

John is experienced and worked for more than 15 years with the company in different roles. His mantra is “never change a working approach”. He preservers the status quo.

William has the same level of experience in the company but has developed a love for the latest “best practices”. He is always on the look out how to improve things.

Mary is with the company just for a few years and then fresh from University. Some of the “old stuff” she is dealing with is hurting her sense of “doing it right” albeit she acknowledges it works. Refactoring would make maintenance and support easier but would have no visible benefit for the end user.

Alan joins the team and it is his first job. He likes the solid and calm approach from John, the energy from William who always seem to find a way to make stuff better for the customer, and the quick thinking Mary who knows tech stuff in and out.

The team leader struggles at times to get them working together effectively. 2 pairs emerge initially, William and Mary driving change with John and Alan asking, isn’t it working fine? Both have very valid points and the team leader would love to get more synergy going and not risking confrontation between the pairs.

Several approaches come to his mind and he settles on breaking the pairs up by switching the 2 younger members around. To get the learning going he asks the pairs to review their work. One of the older guys, John, has a problem with that as he feels Mary being “too cocky” about the old and well proven way he does things.

The team leader remembers a story he heard once how an airline handled a similar challenge. He takes John and William for a walk and explains to them the idea. He asks them to purposely insert some mistakes in their code. That way there is no loss of face, even if the younger guys find things that were made accidentally. He also tells the younger guys so they know there is no conflict between reviewing code and not making friends with team mates.

This approach can be refined to address the different ways of coding, create appreciation of a new way of doing things as well as proven methods.

I missed the point …

Papal election result

For years my dear wife is telling me some businesses (companies, government agencies, etc) are just covering their butts. They are not interested in the well being of their staff, customers or populace. In fact they have been taught not to make mistakes. The same time I have been arguing the opposite being true for the majority. There are plenty of examples where innovation, technical or medical break throughs etc take place; there are managers and business owners who have the best interest of their people at heart.

Having worked now in the private and public sector I have changed my mind. It is sad but true, many people work to uphold the rules and regulations. You can call it standards, operating procedures, or even culture “that’s how we do tings around here”. The focus is on compliance, policing and governance.

We are missing what we have set out to do, for example:

  • service to the community or our customer base
  • providing solutions and results for the customer
  • develop and build tools / systems that last and do the job well
  • make and distribute healthy food

The common cause is often cited as the growth syndrom:

  • making money
  • gaining power
  • becoming famous

BUT, is that really the case?

How many dads or mums simply want to provide for their children to have it better (education, house, job, ..)?
How many of us simply would like to go on with their business without thinking about mortgage, tax, bills, regulations, … ?

Albert Camus once said, freedom is the freedom of others.

It took me long time to understand. My freedom to do what I want is impacting on the freedom of my neighbour. And here our governance approach started. Instead of common sense prevailing we rely on some authority who tells us what we can or can’t do. And while they are at it, they make it a rule and apply it across the country so a single instance is solved for eternity.

What a load of rubbish!

In Germany it takes months for some decisions to be made because so many committees and sub committees have a say and need to review all the rules, regulations and bylaws. In New Zealand we are getting closer by the minute to the same situation. The recent “super city” is a great example. And I don’t mention the stalemate in the US where some egocentrics in both big parties blame each other rather than sit together at a table and don’t get up until the issue is solved. The election method of the pope is a better example how to do it right.

None of this means the people working in such organisations are bad, stupid or ignorant. No, most are intelligent, focused and trying their best. But they have been taught – like all of us – in an institution called school that rules and regulations and compliance is what drives this world and keeps the order. Challenging the status quo is hard and in school we have been taught not to do so.

Asking questions in school is a sign of ?

(a) intelligence (because you actually thought about it and didn’t come to the same conclusion)

(b) lack of intelligence (because you should know this [by now] and probably haven’t paid attention)

 

Ask your children. Then wonder why I wrote this post and comment below or use the answer and go back to the start.

Ask the “why” question and find out the reason behind a process, rule or regulation.

Don’t get me wrong, some are necessary, some are good, and some (most ?) are covering exceptions. Those are the ones slowing us down. Shouldn’t we go back to “Use good judgement?”

them or I?

list of choicesChanging roles a few months ago and evaluating different opportunities over the past few weeks made me think about the criteria I use to do so.

For example, while working at Tait and previous roles I steadily climbed the corporate ladder, gained clout, responsibilities, and enjoyed the success of projects. Surely this came with the price tag of accountability and personal availability. There is no free lunch. However, my point is, it was my choice. Several times during my career I made a case why it was good for the business to implement a change that was also good for me.

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Good Judgement

Last month I reviewed a few presentation on Slideshare and made a note about Hubspot‘s policy approach. I remembered that during a walk at the beach while thinking about management principles. This is the note:

We don’t have pages of policies, instead we have a 3 word policy on just everything:

judgement

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